Every ordinary day, I am reminded that I am weak and desperately need God.
When I forget the birthday of someone dear to me, when I lose my keys, when irritation and anger bubble up in my heart–each experience of imperfection can block my trust in God.
I am tempted to think I am worthless and ought to stop trying. In times like these, this song speaks to me.
I want to avoid admitting my brokenness. I would rather freeze and stop turning to God. Yet, I know that only God can provide the freedom and hope I need. Here is a tune to inspire faith and freewill.
I know I am a sinner. I can be cruel and selfish. Ugly thoughts and actions clog up the loving in my life. I feel dirty and worthless. Here is a song for trials like these.
Sometimes my faith doesn’t feel deep. I get it in my heart that God has the ability to work great miracles, to free me from troubles in the most dramatic of ways. Yet, my head doubts that will happen. This song helps keep hope alive.
I am constantly on a journey of conversion and transformation, as God brings me through these challenges. This tune helps me remember that God is with me in my lows and the awesome highs of life.
In the end, God’s embrace is the greatest place of peace I know. I am so restless, and God is the only source of rest and strength.
Thanks be to God for the comfort we all can know, for the music that will help us make our way through the beautiful mess of the human experience.
We are celebrating the life of a Sister whose legacy continues to unfold. Sister Thea Bowman died 25 years ago today, at age 52. And Sister Thea’s life was a life of song.
I never got to meet Sister Thea in person. Yet, through the communion of saints and our shared membership in the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, I feel quite connected to her. I first heard of Sister Thea during my first telephone conversation with the FSPA Membership Director in 2003. Sister Dorothy encouraged me to pray to Sister Thea for guidance in my discernment journey. Even before she met me in person, she said that I reminded her of Thea. When I visited St. Rose Convent and learned more about Sister Thea a few weeks later, I began to understand the connection that Sister Dorothy sensed.
Now, much of who Sister Thea is and what she stood for continues to enliven me and my life of Gospel living. In her, I get to know some of the freedom that being a FSPA gifts me. She models a life of authenticity and spunk. She shows me how to speak up for justice, even if I am speaking to power. I pray that I also express joy and proclaim a fiery message of inclusion and equality.
Here is a video of Sister Thea’s famous speech to the U.S. Bishops about Black Catholic spirituality in 1989.
Our Church has a lot of work to do, to fully integrate Sister Thea’s vision– just as we have a lot of work to do to live out the invitations of the Gospel.
As we work for the Church we hope for, we shall sing. So, today is a day when I have lively African American spirituals in my head and on my lips. Today is a day when I am praying for a Church that lives out the message that Sister Thea proclaimed, a day to celebrate the joy that comes from knowing Jesus.
During this sacred week there are certain songs that, without fail, end up on repeat in my head. Perhaps you’re interested, as the music could enrich your Holy Week too.
“Hosana” from Jesus Christ Superstar
“Stay With Me” by the Taize community
“Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)?” Sung by Johnny Cash
Actually, this day does not have a song.
It is a day of silence, listening, waiting, and hoping. For me, this can is only done well without an agenda and with a lot of openness and trust in God. This will actually be the main thing I’ll tune into during Triduum this year.
“Christ the Lord is Risen Today” Preformed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir
Hope you have a Blessed Holy Week & Happy Easter, Messy Jesus Business readers!
The last time I wrote, I mentioned I was open to going on summer adventures. I wrote this in metaphorical language and I prayed that God would bless all of us in our deep exploring.
God is bigger than metaphor. Living the Gospel is always a great adventure.
I have been blessed, indeed. My summer is half way over and I have been enriched and enlightened by a lot of great activity: studying theology at Catholic Theological Union,my community’s assembly, fun with sisters, family and friends, travel, writing and sharing poetry and participating in a young nun gathering in California.
I have also been doing some listening. In my adventures, music is often my companion. This song, especially, has been speaking to me:
Much of my life is about prayer and contemplation, this is the main activity I am about as a Franciscan sister. Right now, I am thankful for the time and space to seep up God’s sacred presence all over the place, even in my adventurous travels and fun.
No matter where I am, I try to be still and open, to really lean and listen to God’s stirring in my heart- because that’s a greater adventure than exploring a city or a giant forest.
When I am open, I get to experience “kingdom come.”
When I am awake, I am energized by God who is like a “burning ring of fire.”
I believe, God is calling each of us to greater growth, wisdom, development. It’s the love of God that enlivens and energizes us. With God, we keep evolving. God’s power is deep within us, God’s ways are written on our hearts.
This is ancient stuff.
Moses said to the people: “If only you would heed the voice of the LORD, your God, and keep his commandments and statutes that are written in this book of the law, when you return to the LORD, your God, with all your heart and all your soul. “For this command that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you. It is not up in the sky, that you should say, ‘Who will go up in the sky to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’ Nor is it across the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’ No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.” – Deuteronomy 30: 10-14
Yes, God is moving us into new ways, into an exciting new Gospel-centered future. Are we open? We must be open to really carry it out! God help us, Amen!
Our lives are made of Advent stories. As advent people, pain and sorrow erupt right with joy and elation.
A couple of days ago, I had a real Advent experience.
I know a darling preschooler who I believe is a modern child saint. She teaches her stuffed animals how to pray the sign of the cross and she loves talking to her younger siblings about God. I love her and her parents a lot, as they are some of my dearest friends from college. The other day I heard from the three-and-a-half year old’s mother and learned that this dear little girl has been diagnosed with leukemia. The message was a request for prayers, as she must now go through chemotherapy for the next two-and-a-half years. (Please join us in prayers for miracles.) The awful news sunk my heart to a near-collapse.
While I was the middle of emailing a prayer request for the little girl and her family to my community’s adoration chapel coordinator, my phone rang. It was my dad. He was calling to tell me that my younger sister had her highly anticipated baby and I am now an aunt! After I squealed and shed a few tears of joy, I added another line to my email before I sent it. “In thanksgiving for the birth of my nephew!”
My prayer request was a combination of sorrow and elation. Together, my email was a cry for help and a message of praise and thanksgiving.
In a matter of minutes my heart experienced the extremes of our chaotic, human experience. In each of our lives, the beauty and joy coincides with the awful and ugly every day.
Thousands of years ago, God’s people were exiled and had forgotten their promise to be faithful to the covenant. They started repenting and saying they were sorry for breaking God’s great law of love. Then a great voice came forward and told them to change out of their penitential clothes and get all dressed up. It was time, he said, to show that they were children of God, made out of beauty and love. Sure, they had messed up, but there were reasons to rejoice and have hope.
Here’s what the prophet said:
Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever: wrapped in the cloak of justice from God, bear on your head the mitre that displays the glory of the eternal name. For God will show all the earth your splendor: you will be named by God forever the peace of justice, the glory of God’s worship. Up, Jerusalem! stand upon the heights; look to the east and see your children gathered from the east and the west at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that they are remembered by God. Led away on foot by their enemies they left you: but God will bring them back to you borne aloft in glory as on royal thrones. For God has commanded that every lofty mountain be made low, and that the age-old depths and gorges be filled to level ground, that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God. The forests and every fragrant kind of tree have overshadowed Israel at God’s command; for God is leading Israel in joy by the light of his glory, with his mercy and justice for company. -Baruch 5:1-9
Our God has created a mysterious, paradoxical world. Our human ways are messy and ugly, yet beautiful and glorious. It’s in nature: if we examine a swamp we can see life coming out of the mud. If we go to our gardens, we can notice how the decay of our compost waste renews and restores new life.
We can also look at the impacts of our human actions. If we go to our war-zones we can see art rising from the destruction. We can also see how the songs of symphonies are sometimes created from slums of our trash. The stories in this movie make that very literal:
It’s true and just like all of us! Despite our garbage, we get to be instruments of God and make music to sparkle out God’s glory. Even if all the darkness is too heavy or we feel like we are just ugly waste, God can create us into something new. We don’t really know what that will be. Let’s stay open while we wait.
Instruments can only make good music if they are empty and open. As instruments of God, joyful songs of hope and beauty can ring through our empty, broken sorrowing souls. God makes the music, we need to be ready to do the work.
These are real Advent stories that teach us about an Advent way of being. In our world of pain and darkness, the Light of Christ is glowing bright. We are children of that Light! We get to act like our parent, and help the Light illumine the darkness. Daily we get to say yes to helping beauty be right along side the dirt of our pain and sorrow.
It’s such good news! We get to trust and have hope, by God’s grace our ugly stories and feelings can become songs of beauty and light! Amen! Happy Advent!
A version of this post was previously posted here.
While I was in my early 20s and discerning sisterhood, I felt insecure about my prayer life. I envied people who were able to wake up at the same time every day and pray in the same way. I had some silly impression that that’s what made a Christian a good Christian – whether they were able to sit still with God before they did anything else. As I grew to understand and accept myself more, I quickly realized that God didn’t really make me to be a consistent creature. Every day is different, and my relationship with God is very on-the-go.
In fact, when I shut up and paid attention to God in the people I knew, I started to notice how God was telling me that I was OK just as I was. One of my dear friends, who knows some things about God, kept saying “Julia, you pray with your feet.” I felt affirmed, yet still doubtful. Then I met a young monk from an Eastern religion who taught me that within humanity there are two different dispositions to enlightenment. Some people are enlightened through meditation and others are enlightened through service.
I’ve always been compelled to serve. Giving and caring for others is a blessing, just as it is a blessing to allow others to care for me. When I teach youth about service I remind them over and over that service is not about doing something. Service is not about entering someone’s world and getting busy. Service is about building relationships with people who are different than you and providing a loving presence, like Jesus did. It’s allowing them to change you as you learn about their lives and their world.
During my first summer of working with the Peacebuilders Initiative, I accompanied some teenagers to a shelter for women (and their children) who are in recovery on the South Side of Chicago. There we participated in the music class with an organization called Harmony, Hope, and Healing. Aware that the women had been formerly homeless made the experience even more awesome. Diverse strangers crammed into a living room, we all sang our hearts out. I heard million dollar voices sing hymns of praise. I realized, in tears, that this was what I had been hoping for every time I prayed “thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”
Later, we danced and prayed with musical instruments as we marched down the street to the park. Aware that it was a neighborhood of violence, I prayed with every step that the music we made blessed all of creation. The women told their stories and I told them how amazing they were and then we prayed, cried and hugged. It was one of the best prayer services I ever attended.
It’s the 4th of July. Throughout the land folks will parade around with flags and explode fireworks, all because the USA gained some independence back in 1776. I suspect that they’ll be some good old-fashioned patriotic pride and we wouldn’t have to listen to carefully to hear someone proclaim that the USA is the best country in the world.
But, is the USA really that great?
It is ancient and modern wisdom that a nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members. Jesus taught us to put the littlest first, to make the vulnerable our priority. Yet, the USA has the greatest gap between the rich and poor of any industrialized Western nation. The rich keep getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and more people are becoming poor. For a nation wanting to boogie down to patriotic party music, it’s not exactly good news. We’re not really that great, after all.
This Land is Your Land by Woody Guthrie is one of my favorite songs. I used to sing it as a traveling song. But the meaning and power of the song changed for me a few years ago, after I spent a year working with some of the most vulnerable in our nation: homeless and parenting youth. At the end of my year as a Jesuit Volunteer in California I was introduced to the last verses of the song and the words sent chills down my spine. I never learned these words when I studied the song in elementary school, probably because I would have asked the music teacher too many tough questions:
As I went walking I saw a sign there And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.” But on the other side it didn’t say nothing, That side was made for you and me.
In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people, By the relief office I seen my people; As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking Is this land made for you and me?
Nobody living can ever stop me, As I go walking that freedom highway; Nobody living can ever make me turn back This land was made for you and me.
Which land? Whose land? What’s going on? What are we doing?
Questions, questions. I have so many!
As we work for real greatness- as we work to build the Kingdom of God- what are the questions we need to be asking?
How many people are lined up in invisible bread lines? What is wrong with how we operate as a society that poverty is getting worse? Why does this wealth gap grow?
What does our faith have to do with it? What are our churches doing? Are we praying for the poor and working for justice? Are the poor getting relief in our churches and from our faith communities? What will it take for us all to work together so that our country is so great that we can teach other lands how to justly treat the poor? How are we we to build the Kingdom of God?
Nobody living can ever stop me, As I go walking that freedom highway; Nobody living can ever make me turn back This land was made for you and me.